Technical SEO advice for ecommerce sites simply wouldn’t be complete without mentioning faceted navigation. Therefore, in this final installment I will be offering solutions to one of the most common SEO issues faced by retail sites. If you want to catch up on the rest of the series read part one, part two and part three here.
Faceted navigation is the process of using filters on your site to narrow down the content visitors want to find. Typically, you would see faceted navigation in play on an ecommerce site when you are greeted with a list of products.
For instance, you may have a clothing site with a landing page for “women’s clothes”. From there you could select size, colour and brand filters which would narrow down the list of products you are shown.
The issue with faceted navigation, if not set-up correctly, is that it can create a lot of very similar thin quality pages that are crawlable and indexable by search engines.
Imagine your “women’s clothes” landing page; the meta title, the header 1 tag and the copy on the page will not change as you filter to show only size 16 clothes but the URL would be different, for example www.exampleclothesshop.com/women?size=16.
The title and headers would remain the same, but picture the combination of filters that could be selected and the volume of pages that would be created as a result. Yes, a lot.
The issue with these pages is that they can keep the search engine bots away from crawling your more important content. Additionally, link equity that could help rank your core product pages higher gets diluted amongst the pages you don’t want ranking and there’s the issue of lots of pages cannibalising the keywords on your listing page.
The easy way to see if your site’s faceted navigation is creating indexable URLs that you would prefer not to be cluttering up your website is to perform a site search. Simply go to your search engine of choice, type in site:[your website domain here] and look through the pages that are listed.
If you see any with a question mark and a string of numbers and letters, then your faceted navigation created pages are likely being indexed. Just click on a few of these and see what pages you are presented with.
The best way to solve this issue is to not build it into your website in the first place. Whenever the SEO team at Avenue is making recommendations for a retail website in build, we will advise against setting up the faceted navigation so these pages are limited in their indexation.
I would love to be able to give you the definitive way to achieve this but it is very much dependent on the set-up of your website. For instance, adding canonical tags to these pages will mean the link equity is pushed back to the main listing page and not the filtered pages, but it doesn’t stop these filtered pages from being crawled.
You could employ a “rel=noindex” HTML tag for those pages you don’t want appearing in the search results, but again, this doesn’t solve the crawling issue. A good solution is to add a “rel=nofollow” HTML tag to the filtering system so the pages that are created through it cannot be reached.
However, if those pages are linked to from elsewhere (for instance, if you have a seasonal campaign page that links to a specially curated list of products “great for summer!”) which have been achieved through filtering, then that page can still be found by the search bots if that link doesn’t have the nofollow tag added to it.
Even though you might be very vigilant with ensuring nofollow tags are added to every link to filtered pages on your site, you can’t prevent other websites from linking to them.
If your website filtering system is quite simple and doesn’t actually have that many combinations, then search bots visiting them isn’t necessarily going to prevent your more important pages from being crawled, in which case using a canonical tag may be a good solution.
However, if you have thousands of pages being created on your already very large website you may need to ensure these pages aren’t accessed by the search bots, in which case a nofollow and noindex tag might need to be used in combination.
There are many technical issues that can plague a retail site and impact its performance in the organic search results. Common challenges include slow load time and poor security on your site. Additionally, image optimisation, schema mark-up and ensuring you have the right product sitemaps are all simple fixes to help boost your rankings.
The key is to keep checking how well your website is being indexed and what pages the search engines are finding. From there, you have a better chance at streamlining the SEO efficiency of your site and getting those top ranking spots.